Wine dinners: Château Angélus and Pichon Comtesse de Lalande
November 29, 2010
What a treat it was to be part of a three consecutive tasting dinners in three different German cities – Berlin on 11 November, Frankfurt on 12 November and Baden Baden on 13 November – with Château Angélus and Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. The idea behind these events is to pair top quality food and wine for wine lovers and professionals – ITBers, sommeliers, merchants and bloggers – and, by that measure, all succeeded!
Each evening, participants tasted the same wines (although in Berlin we enjoyed two extra vintages). That way, one was sure to appreciate drinking windows of vintages enjoyed, given bottle variation for older vintages, and given different ways of opening the bottles before each dinner. All three venues were great. We started in Berlin at the Sankt Moritz – a hidden gem of a restaurant for winos. Owner and sommelier Anton Stefanov is a wine lover’s restaurateur. It has been a pleasure to work with him over the last few years – we have co-organised tasting dinners with Gruaud Larose, with Pichon Baron and others. But in November it was with Jean-Bernard Grenié, co-owner of Château Angélus and with Gildas d’Ollone, general director of Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. I think Anton’s team stepped up to the plate with the best dinner they ever prepared.
Next stop was in Frankfurt, at the one-star Michelin restaurant Le Français of the celebrated Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel in the center of Frankfurt. I cannot emphasize enough that Le Français chef Patrick Bittner easily deserves two stars and not one. His dinner was magnificent, and the cheeses of Bernard Antony (link includes my article on his cheeses), including an amazing four-year old comté, matched perfectly the two 2005s. Unfortunately, the following morning, a thief stole my backpack – with digital camera, Flip video, brand new eyeglasses, Hewlett Packard computer and much more. That cast a slight pall on things, especially because I could not take any photos from the third wonderful evening…
Finally, we reached a crescendo at the thermal spa city of Baden Baden, just across the French-German border, where we enjoyed an excellent five course dinner at the Brenner Park Hotel and Restaurant. Chef Andreas Krolik was more than up to the task, proving his two-star Michelin rating. Once again, we enjoyed fine cheeses by Bernard Antony, with the cheese master himself enjoying the dinner at my table.
Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande and Château Angélus are of two different styles, but both appeal to me. While Pichon Comtesse exudes classic elegance from the Left Bank, Angélus is more the modern Right Bank style. But it is “sneaky”, too. The 1989 Angélus, for example, was one of the two top wines of the double verticals, and it seems to be firmly on its plateau, and will stay there for some time yet. The estates literally crossed paths in the 2006 vintage, when Angélus winemaking director (and co-owner) Hubert de Bouard consulted Pichon Comtesse. The other wine I liked most over the three evenings was the Pichon Comtesse 1996, which is somewhat atypical for the estate, because of its rather high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon (75%). Usually, Pichon Comtesse has more Merlot in the mix.
Here the tasting notes from the wines. I will update with more details on food and wine pairings soon.
2001 Ch. Angélus
60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet franc. This wine has really come into its own. I have tasted it fairly regularly over the years, and feel that it is now at its prime drinking window. Hint of leather and truffle, but still fruit driven. It is full bodied, but not as intense as, say, the 1998, or as evolved as the 1995. I feel that the 1998 is on a slower evolutionary track than either of these. But the 2001 is very nice to drink today.
2002 Ch. Pichon Comtesse
This wine is just too young to drink today, no matter how much air time is given, but Medoc like cassis is peeking through as are some pencil shavings. It would go very well with a steak in a pepper sauce, but as elegant as the tannins are today, I would rather wait a few more years before trying this one.
1998 Ch. Angélus
Ah, this has to be one of my overall favorites from Château Angélus, close to the 1989. Rich black fruits with chocolate flavors all expressed with opulence and polish, as my friend and fellow taster Martin Zwick noted. You can drink this today, but also hold it with confidence. I think it will improve over the next few years.
1996 Ch. Pichon Comtesse
Here we are at the pinnacle of Pichon. Not since 1982 has Pichon made such a fine wine (and it may be rivaled by the supreme tasting experience of the 2009 barrel sample). The 1996 needs air. In Berlin, it did not get the carafe time it deserved. We learned our lesson and had it opened in Frankfurt about three hours before dinner, and then in an open carafe one hour before it was served. A spherical wine, certainly packed with flavor but hardly obvious. This wine marries grace with character, its Cabernet Sauvignon-driven nature (75% Cabernet Sauvignon) is expressed with distinct cassis and graphite, but so more voluminous than the 2002 will ever be, methinks. And it is very polished, somewhat like the Angélus 1998, which is, for its part, quite Merlot driven.
1995 Ch. Angélus
The 1995 Angélus seemed more serious a few years back, but I feel that it has evolved somewhat, giving off musk notes that are thoroughly seductive. About 50-50 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it is very well balanced and delicious at the same time. I would say that one can easily enjoy it now, and that it is on a plateau.
1995 Ch. Pichon Comtesse
My, my, this is a wine I have underestimated in the past. I used to think it was a tad rough on the edges, but today – with adequate air time (about 90 minutes open in a carafe) – this wine exhibits delicious flavors and character. The Pichon 1995 was especially very good in Baden Baden, because it got the most air: it really needs some oxygen to show its stuff. There is something “sexy” about the 1995, certainly more edgy than the 1996, but I would agree that the 1996 is a superior wine, one that will last longer and also is more spherical today: as already said, a candidate for best wine overall of all three tastings. There is much finesse nonetheless with the 1995, and the prominent tannin is melting. I recall trying this for the first time back in 2004 and it was tight as a drum. If you just open it and pour, it may still seem that way. But if you aerate properly, it will be more than ready to enjoy in 2011.
1989 Ch. Angélus
A glorious wine. After the dinner, when many of the Berlin guests had left, there was some left in another open bottle, and I poured myself generously. It was only the third time I had tried it since 2004, when I hosted a vertical on Nantucket Island in May that year. I think that the 1989 is better than the 1990 because it has more structure. As much as the 1990 can seduce you with richness, the 1989 matches that richness and raises the stakes with greater body and length. This along with the Pichon 1996 are perhaps my two favorites of the verticals.
1988 Ch. Pichon Comtesse
Coming from the first of three fine Bordeaux vintages in a row, the 1988 is somewhat overshadowed by the 1989 and 1990, but Pichon did a fine job with the 1988. Not as immediately appealing as the Angélus 1989, the wine with which it was paired in Berlin, the Pichon 1988 took more time to open, and we made the error of not aerating it as much as we should have: it improved in glass.
2005 Ch. Angélus
The 2005 is big today, even a bit port like, yet it has much potential. Co-owner Jean-Bernard Grenié said that it will end up like the 1989, so that sounds very good to me. I recall tasting it back in December 2008, and it compared favorably to the Angélus 2000, which to me seems more massive and less elegant.
2005 Ch. Pichon Comtesse
A lovely wine that quenches one’s thirst. I seriously misjudged this wine en primeur. So did the great wine critic Robert Parker. It exhibits such freshness and finesse that I found myself going back to it regularly. Certainly easier to enjoy today than the Angélus 2005, it exhibits telltale cassis and graphite but also a certain (Petit Verdot driven?) spice. Interestingly, one week later, over dinner in London with Neal Martin, the at large critic for Robert Parker, we spoke about this vintage and Neal noted that he was one of the few critics to grade this Pichon highly. He was right. It may lack the oomph of the 1996, but it is a lovely wine and still selling for a decent price, so I would not hesitate to buy.